World Cinema: The box of (other) delights

In our latest world cinema column, we examine the enduring appeal of overseas films, and look ahead to Kim Longinotto’s documentary, Rough Aunties...

Rough Aunties

Whether you call it world cinema, or transnational cinema, or local or trans-global, there is no doubt that certain things compel you to seek out and discover these films. But just what exactly?

Of course it eventually all boils to specific, personal taste as to what cinema you are drawn to, but I believe there are key themes and elements in common for all who watch films and TV from outside the mainstream. After all, a main reason why a lovely site such as Den Of Geek exists is to draw disparate elements (that’s you and me) and give them a shared home.

Without wanting to become sucked into a wider socio-ethnographic discourse, and I know how popular they are, I like to believe these elements can be loosely expressed as three ‘hooks’ for why we like to watch world cinema.

The sense of ‘otherness’

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This is the main one for me, in both terms of importance and for why I choose to watch a lot of transnational cinema. It is the thrill of discovery and exploring something alien which first drew me to cinema as a child. But as I grew used to the fantastical, I discovered that something even closer to home could replicate that thrill.

And that was viewing other people from countries unknown to me, and how they made meaning of life, love and everything else. Some things were universal, but many were not – while film form is a common language, the accents are decidedly different.

It is this sense of doing things differently, which the majority will not necessarily embrace, that marks it out as special and worthy of attention. And it is the sense of adventure which accompanies a new discovery that keeps us seeking. While this is an almost all-encompassing reason into why world cinema is increasingly popular, there are other nuances to it…

Globalisation

A quite obvious one here. We are attracted to these cinemas because they are far easier to access then before. The world is getting ever smaller, and as this happens so does our knowledge increase about other cultures, and subsequently their cinema.

Most of what I truly know about Iranian life and their day-today culture comes from their impressive local cinema – same as Palestinian life. The internet has driven this global exchange of ideas far more effectively than film festivals ever did before, and now we can discover, research, watch and then discuss a previously unheard of film within a few hours. If you are a fan of film, it is natural to want to explore all aspects of it, and globalisation has helped us achieve this. See, it isn’t all bad!

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The rediscovery of our favourite cinema

Linked intrinsically to the previous two reasons, this one requires a little more explanation. As globalisation has given us access to other films, so the producers have had increasing access to Westernised culture. Taking this, they have often added their own sensibilities to the various genres, in the process creating something new and wonderful.

What once seemed stale and old is fresh again, and in turn allows us to re-evaluate the originals and our approach to it. A prime example of this is the Western genre, which has been re-invented not once, but twice by non-Hollywood sources. The first was obviously with Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western, which proved so successful that it now represents authentic Western iconography by its own merits.

The second is more recent, as the last 10 years has produced a uniquely Asian Western, indebted to the history of the genre yet inventive and exhilarating enough to stand on its own. Bookended by Tears Of The Black Tiger (2000) and The Good, The Bad, And The Weird (2008), it is also notable for the mighty Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) which in keeping with the manic action of the previous two, is a blast.

Looking Forward

Rough Aunties

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Belatedly acknowledging the World Cup, here’s a fascinating documentary set in Durban, South Africa and focusing on five women and their struggle to help the abandoned children of their city. From director Kim Longinotto, who made the remarkable Sisters In Law, this is a film which highlights not only the struggle the poor face in modern South Africa, but also the challenges facing the women in their quest. Highlighting the continually changing post-apartheid country, it shines a light on the rainbow nation and the often neglected and forgotten aspects of its struggle.

Rough Aunties is released on Friday 16th July. (UK)

Looking Back

I’m coming to the end of my Indian trip, but I have one more film from this massive film industry to share. India is regarded as the home to either Bollywood style spectaculars or quiet, intimate portraits of village life, but it also produces a wide variety of cinema in between, a lot of which is worth seeking out.

Nishaant (1975 directed by Shyam Benegal)

Every major cinematic nation has produced its own New Wave, and India is no different. Emerging in the 1970s, it was typified by brutal realism, low production costs, and a non-star cast, although it is notable for the success these actors went onto following New Wave exposure (Om Puri being just one of many who started in these pictures).

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Prime amongst its creative talents was Benegal, who produced a loose thematic trilogy with his first three films, of which Nishaant is the middle picture. Set in pre-independence India, it focuses on the clash between the traditional feudal land owners and the emerging rural class. Four brothers corruptly rule a village, and when a kidnapping of a woman causes outrage, they must deal with the uprising villagers.

The film is shocking in its graphic portrayal of rural life, and for those who expect colour and festivities to inform their sense of Indian cinema, you are in for a rude awakening. This is the image of a country coming to terms with its relatively new-found independence, and finding itself at a crossroads in history, both of its own and globally. It is still a crossroads they have yet to genuinely and successfully move on from, and so this 35-year-old film is still as relevant and powerful as the day it was made.